Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

CRIME: But Will It Pay?

He’s not Irish, but he lives here, so we’ll call Irvine Welsh an adopted Irish crime writer. Anyhoo, Welsh has been getting some grief over the subject matter of his latest novel, CRIME. Quoth Peter Doyle in the Irish Independent:
TRAINSPOTTING author Irvine Welsh has lashed out at claims he’s cashing-in on Madeleine McCann’s disappearance and the horrors of child-sex abuse with his latest novel. Set in Florida, CRIME is a thriller about a burned-out Scottish detective who stumbles across a paedophile ring while on holiday with his fiancée … some critics have panned his latest literary venture, saying the best-selling novelist is cynically exploiting a controversial and emotive subject to “pay the mortgage”.
  This story is particularly relevant in Ireland, where the release of Ben Affleck’s movie Gone Baby Gone, based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, was delayed for six months in deference to the sensibilities of those affected by the McCann disappearance. An unusually tasteful and worthy move by the distributors, the delay was nonetheless a pointless exercise in the kind of woolly thinking that strives to protect the general public from itself.
  Without being flippant or dismissive of child sex abuse, or the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, this issue really does beg the question of what an author, and particularly a crime novelist, is allowed to write about without incurring the wrath of morality’s storm-troopers. For example, on pages 6-7 of yesterday’s Irish Times, there were stories, in no particular order of importance, relating to:
drug smuggling; solicitors found guilty of misconduct; the jailing of a man for possessing child-rape pornography; a woman convicted of murdering her husband; a man convicted of indecent assault; a woman alleged to have contracted a hitman to murder her husband; the trafficking of a Nigerian girl as a sex-slave; a Gardai inquiry into a case of alleged euthanasia; and a murder arising from a gangland feud in Limerick.
  Are these stories, and any stories similar to them, now off-limits to novelists simply because those involved have achieved their 15 minutes of fame? Should Shakespeare be struck off the Leaving Certificate curriculum for writing about regicide? Is it our moral duty to tout Arthur Conan Doyle to the SPCA for advocating the relentless pursuit of large hounds on Dartmoor?
  We don’t for one second believe that Irvine Welsh – who wrote about heroin addiction when it was neither popular nor profitable, for example – had Madeleine McCann in mind when he began writing CRIME. But even if he did, is he not entitled, and some might argue morally obliged as a novelist, to confront the issues that are relevant to contemporary society? If crime fiction is about only one thing, it is about lancing taboos to allow us confront our worst fears, forcing us to deal with the casual horrors of day-to-day life in a mature and balanced way. Demonising paedophiles hasn’t helped; trying to understand the whys and hows of their sickness might help, both them and us. For that reason alone, Irvine Welsh’s CRIME deserves a wide audience.


Gerard Brennan said...

I've been a Welsh fan for quite a while, and I imagine I'll be reading this one at some point in the future. But personally I find this kind of story very hard going. I don't think I've the guts to tackle this issue in my own writing, but if Irvine Welsh is going to do it, more power to him. He's doing a job I couldn't.

I wonder if Mo Hayder got this sort of reaction when she wrote The Treatment? It wasn't an easy read for me either.


Philip said...

I have not read Welsh's book, but most certainly I have no objection to his subject matter in general - addressing the issues and problems in society is no small part of what crime fiction is about, and the subject at issue is an horrendous one in nature and scale. How he approaches it and the quality of the book in general, obviously I can't speak to. What I do object to, if this be so, is his use of the McCann case. Peter Robinson similarly made use of the grotesque Bernardo/Homolka case for his Aftermath and, frankly, thoughts along the lines of meeting mortgage payments or meeting contracts with short deadlines went through my mind when I was reading that book, for I thought it cheap. The feelings of the families of that monstrous pair's victims will never, I should think, be less than raw, so appalling the crimes, and this sort of thing, which must be exploitation in some sense, is not going to help at all. And so it is with the McCann case.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, the book deserves a wide audience. Irvine Welch has earned the right with his previous work. That counts for something.

What gets me is how every one of these shocking crimes gets its own logo and theme music on the news channels five minutes after the story breaks and, "We'll be right back with more incredibly invasive personal details about the family's coping with this tragedy after a word from our sponsors." Apparently it's okay for the makers of detergent and fast food to exploit these tragedies in the most superficial way for profit.

A novelist, who may actually dig a little deeper into things and think about the ramifications of the events with a wider scope is a far better way to, "confront the issues that are relevant to contemporary society," as you say, than the news media has ever been.

Declan Burke said...

Hi Philip - No, Welsh's book doesn't engage with the McCann case in any way ... it's a completely spurious connection made by unnamed 'critics' in the Irish Independent piece. Cheers, Dec